Washington, DC--Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY-16) has re-introduced legislation, the Cell Phone Theft Protection Act (H.R. 1730), to discourage cell phone theft by requiring wireless commercial services to cut off service to a stolen phone.

“It makes no sense to reward the thief by continuing service on a stolen cell phone.  It’s simple common sense that the victim of a crime isn’t responsible for service they are no longer receiving.  If service is cut off on a stolen phone, it just becomes a useless brick and the motivation to threaten, or commit violence, to steal a phone goes away.  By cutting off service, wireless companies will do wonders for public safety, and I am confident they will support this legislation,” said Rep. Engel, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The proposed legislation has widespread support among our national police chiefs.  Nearly 70 police chiefs sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging similar action to the Cell Phone Theft Prevention Act, including New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.  These communities supporting action include – the City of Buffalo, Washington D.C., and New York’s Nassau and Suffolk Counties.  The New York Times recently reported that thefts of mobile Apple products, known as “Apple Picking,” accounted for 14 percent of all crimes in New York City last year.  Preventing these offenses would significantly reduce the incidents of potentially violent crimes citywide.  One year ago, Hwang Yang, a 26-year-old Riverdale resident was killed on Johnson Avenue for his iPhone. 

“Police say tens of thousands of smartphones are stolen each year.  If we can substantially reduce, or prevent these crimes, with this bill, then this legislation is worthwhile.  I urge my colleagues to sign on to the Cell Phone Theft Prevention Act.  I encourage all Congress Members to co-sponsor and pass the bill before the full House, so we can reduce cell phone crime,” said Rep. Engel.

“We appreciate the congressman’s continued support and effort to make our residents and visitors safer, by addressing this growing problem,” said Metropolitan Police Department Chief of Police Cathy L. Lanier.  “Until this issue is addressed once and for all, violent crimes associated with stolen cell phones will continue to be a problem.  We made progress last year and this bill is an additional step forward.”

The Cell Phone Theft Protection Act would do the following:

  • Create a national “negative file” or “blacklist” to be maintained by the wireless industry to record the individual ID number of a stolen device.  Companies would then cross-reference the files with the other carriers to ensure that no device reported stolen could get service from another provider.
  • Make it illegal to change, alter, or remove the unique identifier, referred to as the International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI).
  • Require wireless carriers to develop technology allowing the customer to remotely delete their data should the device be stolen.
  • Require all devices manufactured in the U.S., or imported to the U.S., to have unique ID numbers.  Most phones already do, but it is important to ensure that any duplicate ID numbers do not exist.
  • Provide the time for companies to enact the provisions of the bill so the system will be strong and functioning in a manner which does not disrupt the service to the consumer, or create any unforeseen technical issues.